A Darker Path: Part 9 – Turning Point

Where we came from…

Teaching and moving on

In the latter half of my second year of university, I was approached by my course controller to run the tutorial sessions for his first year unit, something I had done previously as a student. It was Paid work, so I said yes. This was the precursor to bigger things.I enjoyed it, and was apparently quite good at it.

In the following years, I took on other tutorial and practical sessions, and was even coordinated trainers by the end of my degree. In fact, my work load became so much, that I switched to part-time studies so that I could handle it all.

I also switched courses along the way. I converted to a Multi-Disciplinary degree, which basically meant I was still doing my Computing Science Major, but now had a lot more flexibility with my electives. I took up Theatre Arts, Creative Writing, Philosophy, Psychology, and even a unit in Ergonomic Office design. My three-year degree took five and a half to complete.

I moved out of home, made a large community of friends and networking associates. Join with groups that shared many of my interests, and of course, did a lot of theatre in the evenings. Things were great, but I was very lonely.

I even started dating. Clumsily, and hesitantly. I still had a lot of respect for the girls, who had shown me more genuine friendship than men in general, so seeing them as romantic interests was rather difficult for me. I made a lot of mistakes, some which make me laugh to think of now, and many that make me cringe. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because I don’t think anyone really knows how to be cool and suave when your stomach is attending the Summer Olympics.

I became friends with role-players, board-gamers, fandom and cosplayers. I was still friends with a couple of guys from high school, and we often met to play Table-Top games like Warhammer 40K. The games of imagination were absolutely thrilling. Out of this, I made one particular friendship which has remained, I believe, very strong.

And that brings us to a story to end this series…

Uncontrolled Desires

The good friend I mentioned above, started seeing a lovely young lady, who became an enthusiastic part of our regular role-playing group. We were all very good friends, and I enjoyed that time we shared immensely, but sadly, as these things go, their relationship didn’t last, but the three-way friendship remained.

The young lady and I grew closer, but I always felt uncomfortable with it because of the friendship I had with here ex-boyfriend. So it quickly fizzled. I felt bad about it, and torn. It was about a year or two later when I got a phone call from said lady asking me to be a part of musical production. I agreed and had a great time. It seemed like our friendship had re-established itself. We did a few shows together.

Then something changed. She had started seeing someone, which I thought was great, but it changed her. Rather drastically. Keep in mind one very important thing; this is how I saw it at the time. Rest assured, I still consider her a friend. Everyone has their reasons for what they do, and it is only we when start believing that it is our fault, that it plays with our minds.

To my mind, suddenly the friendship we had had was as if it had never been.  I felt like a stranger to her. Now, this was not the first time that someone had shut-down on me for no immediate, and obvious reason, but it was the first with, I believed, a very good friend. Someone I trusted.

Then I remembered, it was not.

It was the first time since my last good friend shut down on me. In the last days of primary school. It had taken me years to trust anyone like that again, and while I had now established many good friends, this still took me down hard.

Unfamiliar, and forgotten feelings swarmed through me; confusion, loss, frustration, hurt, paranoia. I found myself standing over the green-room kitchen sink, with a knife in my hand, hovering blade down over my wrists. This was not even a conscious act! I did it without full awareness, and happened to look down to find it in time. It utterly freaked me out. Luckily, no-one was around to see.

I threw the knife away, staring at my hands, mentally cursing them for being so pathetic. I couldn’t kill myself here. I had a show to do! Seriously, the fact that I had to go on stage that night stopped me.

And that was it. That was the moment when I realised I needed to do something about the 12-year-old boy screaming inside; vulnerable, lonely, confused, and very scared. I could not ignore and avoid it any more. All those years, and many happy moments, he was still there crying in the darkness.

Yes, through all these posts, the cold darkness was always there. Lurking.

Epilogue

Depression is something that we all have. It is a part of the human condition. It becomes a sickness when it is allowed to rage uncontrolled. Once it has you in its grip, it can be incredibly hard to shake it. Even the most happy, comedic, controlled person in the world can be holding a deep, dark secret within. They may not even know it themselves.

It is not something that can be cured, or removed. How can you cure something that is a part of who you are. It can be managed, trained, and worked with however.

Along with all the other emotional states of the human psychosis, one must work with depression in order to manage it. Ignoring something raw and natural, like depression, allows it to work away at you, like an ignored child will get gradually louder and louder unless the parent can work with them. Sooth them.

This image, posted on my Photographic Blog site is a dedication to the struggle with Depression. – Signs of Depression

This marks the end of my struggle with depression, and the beginning of learning how to live with it instead.

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A Darker Path: Part 8 – Life Changes

This is becoming a saga….

Something New, Something Old

This was part of the building I was in when I graduated in 1995. It didn’t look like this in 1990.

I had mentioned previously that the choice as to what I was going to do after high school was one that was rather made for me. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, and still was having some difficulty defining who I was as a person. With some logical support from my parents, and a small amount of interest in the subject, I applied for Computing Science at Curtin, and surprised myself by getting in.

It was an interesting prospect going to university. The one thing that was most important to me, was that I didn’t know anyone who was also going. That was both scary, and absolutely thrilling. If I didn’t know anyone going, then no one would know me. It was like a fresh start, and this spot of hope was rather suddenly dashed with a phone call.

From out of the blue, someone with whom I had had very little to do with from school, somehow got my number. They rather eagerly asked me if I was doing Computing Science at Curtin, to which I replied honestly, yet cautiously, that I was.

“GREAT! Then we can enrol together!” And that was pretty much it. Suddenly a part of my past was following me to what was meant to be a new beginning. I was somewhat disheartened, but I was “too nice” to say otherwise, and surely enough, on enrolment day, we enrolled together.

Now, I want to point out that my animosity to this arrangement was not toward the person per se. It was what they represented, and I know that is an unfair judgement to pass on someone you hardly know, but I did. I began to dread history repeating itself. As I look back, I suspect that they were scared in their own right, and were looking for whatever comfort they could, and I was just a convenient place to find it.

So I met up with… let’s call them X, grabbed and filled in forms, then proceeded to the lines. When we were finally asked to see one of the staff on hand to help with enrolment, we did so together, which I had noticed no-one else doing.

The man we sat in front of, with his strong, yet soft, drawling American accent, was also rather surprised by this arrangement.

“Ah, are your enrolling together?” he said with an exhale of breath.

As I went to speak, and X said “Yeah, we share the same brain.”

Both the man and myself glanced at X with curious expressions. I turned back to him and said, “Um, we went to the same school.”

“I see.” The smile on his face was rather telling, and I thought, “Oh my god. What a first impression this is going to make.”

We proceeded somewhat more orderly from then on, left, and I went to find some air. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day, other than hoping that this American was not going to be someone I would have to interact with on a regular basis.

Turns out, he was the course controller.

Nose on Stage

Turns out, going to University also helped my hay fever a little. I was no longer surrounded by the grasses and weeds that I was strongly allergic to. Instead, it was manicured gardens, and well-trimmed lawns. That wasn’t to say that it was gone. It had become more manageable, and seasonal. During the Spring months, it hit hard, and most drugs or treatments simply had no effect, but at least it wasn’t all round. I tended to stay indoors a lot because the air-conditioning helped immensely, and once I could drive, I always had the air-con on full.

I think it was in my first or second year where I discovered a particular drug that worked wonders for me, but there is a story behind that.

The youth group I had been a part of during my final years of high school had led to a youth based theatrical group, of which I became a part of. Operating in association with a local community theatre group, it was basically an eclectic group of young people doing some pretty crazy stuff together, and learning some basic theatrical skills. It was a youth group, and so I was the eldest, or one of at least, but acted more “youthful” than most of them. I loved it. I couldn’t get enough. At some point, we started putting together little survival scenarios, and we talked about putting together a small production. I wrote a short story that loosely tied up some of the individual work that was, done, this was taken by others and turned into a script.

The thing to note here, is that I did some research, and found some interesting things. I was looking up things that could act like nerve toxins… don’t ask. It’s a story for another time, and came across Belladonna. Some of its properties were of particular interest to me. Not the poisonous part, but the medicinal aspects. Pain relief, anti-inflammatory, and histaminic properties in particular. I had noticed this strange ingredient on a bottle of cold-and-flu tables I had taken previously, and I recalled it as I researched our short play.

For both better and worse, I began to depend on this unique drug, as it was the only thing that was able to control my hay fever effectively, and continuously. Pretty much anything else I ever tried lasted a few weeks, or six months at most. I kept getting asked the same thing by pharmacists, “You do know this makes you drowsy?” Thing is, it didn’t. So for the first time in almost a lifetime, I felt incredibly clear-headed.

Good from Bad

By the end of my first year, my last connection from school, X, was gone. They didn’t pass and left. They odd antics at the beginning of the year ended up working in my favour, as the course controller, one Steve Kessell, became a great friend and mentor to me. A relationship that would span many years.

I had rediscovered theatre, and in my second year, we presented our little Youth Theatre production, which actually went really well. Next thing I know, I am being asked to take on roles with the Stirling Players Theatre group. I started doing theatre on a regular basis.

In my second year, something interesting happened. I was asked to become a teacher.

Now, the Finale…

A Darker Path: Part 7 – Backbone

In the continuing saga, from Part 6.

Inspirational Examples

Of all the teachers I had through primary and high school, none do I remember more fondly than Mr Beer, and Mr Tozer, my Maths III and II teachers respectively.

Mr Beer was simply cool. His approach to teaching complex maths was always with inspirational games and events. He often gave little challenges to test out puzzle solving skills, and one that I remember all too well goes like this;

There is a young lady at an airport somewhere in the world. She has missed her flight, and there isn’t another until the next day, but she is clearly desperate. However, the is nothing to be done. She will have to wait. This is all observed by a gentleman who approaches her as she leaves the check-in counter.

“I couldn’t help noticing that you missed your flight. Can I help?”

“My mother has fallen ill and I really need to get home.” She has clearly been crying.

“Well, I have my own private jet and about to leave. I would be happy to take you wherever you wish to go.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you out of your way. You don’t even know where I am going.”

“It wouldn’t matter. I am heading to Perth in Australia, and I can assure you, wherever you are going, it’ll be on my way.”

The question is, where are they?

I’ll just leave that one for you to ponder. There was also the time he was teaching about using angles to calculate the length, or height, of an object. His approach was to use two navigational angled finders, sextants, to measure the angle of a kite flying above the sporting event on the school oval. We could also measure the distance between the to sextants. Back in class, we used these figures to work out how high the kite flew. Then we went back a tried to get it higher. Maths was fun, when creative solutions are a part of the deal.

Mr Tozer struggled through year 11 with a very slight speech impediment. He was clearly uncomfortable, and classes were somewhat tedious. Between year 11 and 12, something changed. He had learned to overcome his condition, and he was a different man. Suddenly, classes were more interesting, and enjoyable. He was more relaxed and confident. It was rather enlightening to watch, and I think I learnt more in his transition, then in class. For someone who struggled with confidence and image, this was a significant lesson.

Protection in Confusion

A development from my experiments in saying hello to those would did not expect it, was outlandish humour. Having observed people for many years, I knew I didn’t want to be a bully, and use violence as a way to “control” others, but being meek and mild was not working for me either. So I needed something else. Witty repartee was out because I never could think of anything until hours, even days after the event.

So I used to say completely random things. I couldn’t tell you now what I did say. It was just bizarre things. It had the effect of making someone stop, look at you strangely, forget their train of thought, and diminished the effect of anything they might have said. I didn’t mind if people though I was a bit weird. It was better than the alternative.

I used it great effect when in Sydney. I had joined up with a nationally based Saturday morning group, who got together and motivated each other. Quite a few of my school friends were a part of it, I rather enjoyed it all. We had a convention and most of us hopped on over to Sydney for a few weeks. I believe this was during Year 12, although my memory is a little vague.

Walking around Circular Quay, I became aware of the large number of non-english speaking tourists, because every time we walked past a group, they would all start laughing. I admit, I was a little self-conscious, and I couldn’t figure out any reason why they would be laughing at us. So I turned to my friend and said, “I’m going to do something here, and I want you to go with it.” He nodded.

Now, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I know I wanted to do something. So as the next group of tourists approach, and on cue they started babbling to each other, I turned and uttered a stream of utter garbage and gibberish. He, to his immense credit, returned with something equally out there. We were both rather stunned and amused by this that we burst into fits of laughter, much to the wonder and bewilderment of the group we were passing.

It was my ultimate weapon.

Finding a Backbone

To this day, I do not know what motivated a strange turning in someone I had thought as a friend. Climbing a flight of stairs to my , I was startled by the sudden appearance of said friend, who came running around the corner down the stairs. On the way, he punched me in the stomach. Startling in itself, I was blind-sided, winded, and rather bewildered.

Much much later, he apologised. Mind you, he did so with the obvious assistance of others, and he stood there with his cheeky grin, his slightly in-genuine apology, and I, already feeling animosity toward him since the attack, was offended. He held out his hand for a hand shake, and I thought that this was not enough. I stepped forward and punched him in return.

I am not usually one to get involved in fights, and I certainly was not one to initiate them, and I would not encourage anyone to do so. In this moment, it felt right, and it felt good. I never shook his hand, and our friendship was slender from that time on, but to his credit, he took it as a fair cop, if a little unexpected. Someone said to me later, “Nice to see you have a back bone.”

It wasn’t the last time it showed either. In the final days of year 12, I had found a certain degree of freedom from the bullies, taunts, and such. Most had found that I no longer cared what they said to me, or that my confusion tactic was simply too weird for them to hand, or they had found other, better interests. Which ever way, the top order bullies generally left me alone, and that made way for the mid-range wannabes.

It is interesting that there is a clear ranking system when it comes to bullies, and I only realised when I was able to stop worrying about it so much. So it was that on the last day, or near last day, of high school, the one such wannabe bully decided to have a go at the infamous victim. I had just slung my bag over my shoulder when it was knocked of. I turned and saw who it was, and told them to leave me alone as I slung my bag up again. He knocked my bag off a second time, so I told him to get lost. After a third time, I turned, dropped my bag, and told him to F* off.

I didn’t and don’t swear much. When I do, it is usually unexpected, and it certainly was here. For a split second, he was a little stunned, but quickly recovered.

“Oooo, I’m gonna kill you for that.”

I snapped. “Really? You wanna kill me? Right then. Come on. Do it. F*g kill. COME ON. PUT YOUR HANDS AROUND MY THROAT AND KILL ME!” and I dared him to kill me. I got up in his face (he was slightly taller than me) and demanded that he kill me. Old feelings came flooding back. Feelings I had not felt in a very long time, and for a brief moment, I wanted him to do it. I wanted him to try. I wanted to see if he could.

I remember thinking that I had seen death. It was a long dark tunnel with nothing at the end of it, taunting you. If you wanted to talk death and killing, then you better have the balls to follow through with it.

He didn’t. I fact, I think he got more than he bargained for. He didn’t know what to do. That was when on of his mates called to him. He turned, clearly relieved of the distraction. After all, no one wants to fight a mad dog, and told his mate, “Jeff beat me up.”

I almost could hear the click as he realised what he had said, and his mate was rather amused at this also.

“Oh please.” I said. “You really need to grow a pair.” I collected my bag, and left without further incident.

But I was troubled. Old memories had been stirred, and I would have to find a way to bury them back down again.

A Darker Path: Part 6 – Into Senior Years

Things got a little better in Part 5

Now don’t go crazy. I haven’t skipped a few decades or anything. I am talking about senior high school. Before I get into that, I am continuously amazed by the people I find reading my blog, and want to talk about it with me. I am positively delighted that others have found this diatribe of mine interesting, entertaining, and even useful. I am humbled.

Old Flames

The bullying had died down somewhat, although how much of this was due to increasing pressure to study, or my new-found ambivalence to their taunts, I’m not sure. Regardless, I enjoyed a higher sense of freedom. Even my hay-fever had started to subside a little.

During my final few years in high school, I got involved in some of the theatre productions. I know we did “Paint Your Wagon”, and I know we did maybe one or two others. I just can’t remember what they were right now. The memories of my previous production, and even the near tragic decision of a twelve-year-old, were not even at a consideration. It was almost as if they had never happened. On stage, I found a powerful passion. So it was with excitement that I told my parents.

The one thing I remember my father saying, was something to the effect of “Well, that’s all well and good, but you’ll never make a living from it.” And then variations on the theme. “It’s a great hobby, but you need to start thinking about a real job. What are you going to do after school?”

Not the most encouraging words one might offer, but it wasn’t a flat-out “Don’t do that rubbish” or “I don’t want you doing that.” These are things that I had heard other kids had been told by their parents and families. So while my father didn’t see it as a viable career, he at least saw that I was enjoying it more than anything else I had done… Except maybe Ju-Jitsu.

Aggressive Intentions

Taking a slight tangent here, down the Ju-Jitsu line, I recall an interesting, shall we say, altercation. Another student had taken a jealous dislike to me, for what-ever reason. I was learning that people sometimes didn’t need a reason beyond their own selfish needs. He liked to antagonise me, when the teacher wasn’t looking, but rarely did it become more than words. After some months of this, we were put together in a sparring match. I think Sensei Hans de Jong (pictured) may have planned it, but I can’t be certain.

Suffice it to say, that he tried everything he could to cause physical pain to me, yet I managed to stay ahead of him. I managed to throw him to the ground in a typical Judo like throw, he then scissor kicked my leg to bring me down also, grabbing my right foot as I fell. We were lying in a straight line, heads on opposite sides, feet overlapping, me on my side, he on his back His intention was to heel strike my groin, holding onto my foot to keep me in place. I slipped my hips back curling myself into a foetal like position and caught his foot in my arms as he struck. What’s good for the goose…

I kicked back but stopped short of following through, leaving my foot to hover for a second, just to let him know. The Sensei called the fight, and I rolled away rather pleased with myself. It all happened so quick, and was purely instinct.

After the session, I was walking down a hall towards the change rooms, a plastic bag with my belongings in my hand. In a flash, a figure ran by me, grabbed the bag, ripping it, pouring the contents onto the floor, before running off down the hall. Suddenly I was down the hall, hoisting my assailant off the floor and against a door. To this day I cannot remember how I got there! It was the student with a grudge. In a rare moment of controlled menace, I threatened him with violence if he ever tried anything again. In think he left or changed session times a short while later.

Lesson of the day, sometimes just the simple threat of violence can avoid the need for it. Man did I love Ju-Jitsu.

Plans Beyond School

So the question was, what was I going to do after school? I was about to start year 11 and I was troubled that I didn’t know. Some of the friends I had made over the years already had some great ideas, and I struggled with a subject that I would like to do, that could also be considered a real job.

I found myself among the academic elite of the school, even if at the bottom of the elite. Smaller classes in Maths II & III, Physics, Chemistry, English Literature. I struggled with Literature, finding it a little to stuffy and rigid for my liking, so switched to History in year 12.

The other students all talked about their plans. The tallest of our group, and in fact, the tallest at our school, surprised us all when he said he was going to study Pharmacy, which was in complete contrast to the demon basketball play we had been familiar with. I find it interesting in hindsight that Theatre degree was never even considered. I think back then that I wasn’t even aware that such a thing existed, and I doubt I would have been warmly received at home if I had known.

Ultimately, the decision wasn’t truly mine. I was, after a fashion, directed to choose it.

Addendum. It may seem like I am labouring on the final years of high school here, and I apologise. It was a big period of change for me, which means a lot of things to talk about… I’ll try to be a little judicious.

Continues…

A Darker Path: Part 5 – Out of School

So, anyway, continuing on from Part 4...

In writing these posts, I have stirred up a swarm of old forgotten emotions and memories. It is rather incredible what the human mind can store, and what it takes to trigger it.

There was, of course, a lot more going on in my life than school. Ju-Jitsu, Boy Scouts, Piano lessons, and a little bit of athletics somewhere in there. Oh, and computers. I was there for the first PCs made for mass consumption. The Commodore Vic20. You could load programs by plugging a cartridge into the back. I remember spending hours playing Omega Race, Space Invaders, the original DOOM!, and so many more. Then they brought out a tape deck so that you could load audio files. With the help of my father, we built our own audio adaptor that made it possible for us to use any tape deck. When I loaded games from cassette, I got to hear all the strange computing noises that are now associated with computers, and I wanted to post a sample, but couldn’t find one that suited. Maybe later.

Frightened Little Boy

I had become fearful of my father, more so than ever. He was a driven man. Stubborn, in pain, frustrated, and no doubt a little afraid himself. He was not in good health, and he could no longer work as he once did, yet he took pride in being the one that paid the bills, and kept us fed. Even though he was often angry, there were moments that I could see the struggle that he lived with, and his stern attempts to not let anyone see, end even though I did see, and did have a glimmer of understanding, I found him unpredictable, and scary.

One telling moment was after another heated telling off for something, which I can’t even remember now. It’s a bit like that. You can remember being told off, but the reason for why has been smothered by the emotional energy of the event. He came into my room, to apologise as it turned out, but to my eyes, he was coming in for round two. I retreated. I had no-where to go, so just curled up in the corner, on my bed, trying to keep as much distance as I could. I can still remember his face. He was disturbed, and shocked. He later confessed that it was this moment that made him rethink a few things, and he tried. I know he did. He is a stubborn, and occasionally opinionated man, but I truly believe that he tried.

To me, he was the perfect role model for going too far. Even though he had serious back issues, he started up a business installing alarms for private and corporate properties. He put his body through some extreme stress, and pushed himself to, and beyond, his limits. He has suffered more injuries than I care to count, and all because he wouldn’t, he couldn’t give in. That attitude often blinded him I believe, to his limits. He just could not accept failure or weakness, and especially in himself.

While I had respect for his persistence, I felt I could never be good enough for him. He was quickly and easily frustrated. I was often “Bloody useless” and he could do the job quicker himself, and he was right of course. He could do the job quicker. I just didn’t have an interest in the same things as he did, and found it very difficult to simulate enthusiasm for him.

Show me Something Jeff

Still, he had his moments. He used to test me and my Ju-Jitsu. For many years, on the odd day here and there, he would give me his best kick, which was really no higher than my waist, and for a long while, I was too frightened to do anything about. One day, I didn’t think. I reacted. I slid sideways, blocked and scooped up his leg, and grabbed his shirt-front. He could have gone flying if I had let myself carry through, but I managed to stop short. He had been completely take off-guard. He said “I don’t think I’ll do that again.” and he didn’t. Amazing what confidence that simple little thing did for me.

I didn’t like getting into fights at the best of times, and I had been dragged into a few, unwillingly. Being able to tackle my father, the man scarier then all the bullies I had ever met, and effectively stop a fight without fighting was quite powerful. When the kids at school found out the I was learning a Martial Art, they all wanted me to “bust a move.”

“Show me something Jeff.” If I had a dollar for each time. I rarely did. Once or twice, I may have twisted the wrists of a couple that got a little to pushy. I think the best demonstration I ever gave was when a group of boys descended on me as I sat watching a sporting session. Because of my hay-fever, I was rarely including in scheduled sports events. I sat at the shed and watched, blowing my nose quietly to myself.

But back to these boys. One in particular sat down next to me, on the other side of a pole that I had been leaning against.

“I hear you do Karate.”

I looked at him. “Nope.”

“Yeah you do. You’re doing that Kung fu shit.”

I just looked at him. The grin on his face told me everything I needed to know. He was picking for a fight, and wanted an easy one. So he picked the quiet, shy, embarrassed, runny nosed nerd for an easy win. Except I wasn’t going to fight him. I just looked at him.

He reached for the skin just above my left hip, grabbed a handful, and began twisting. I just watched his face. I had a little bit of flab back then. Not a lot, but enough for him to get almost three full twists out of me, and I just watched him. Pain control as something that I had learnt from my training.

When he realised that I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of a reaction, his face fell. He looked a little shocked, which he tried quickly to cover up. He muttered some pathetic statement about me not being worth it, and walked off. His cronies walked off disappointed. I watched them leave without saying a word.

The bruising that appeared the next day was intense, but no-one ever asked me about it afterwards. I think this was the day I learnt how to deal with Trolls; don’t give them anything they could feed off. Give them crumbs and they will hang around like seagulls. Give them nothing, and they will soon wander off seeking another source of sustenance.

Fighting is not the only option. Often the most effective battle to win, is the one with you own self-control.

Pearls of Wisdom

Back to my father for a moment, for all his stubbornness, and strong opinions, he occasionally had something useful to say. In my latter years of high school, I was out the front of the house helping my father with the gardening, when one of my many antagonists walked by the house. You see we lived opposite a small pathway that led to a main road, and a local shopping centre. People often passed by.

My father, much to my embarrassment, said hello to afore said bully, who made an uncertain, hesitant reply. In a rare moment of tact, my father waited until he was gone before asking me why I didn’t say hello to him.

Erm, dad. We don’t like each other. He and his mates are some of the kids that pick on me.

“Still, it’s just a word. Wouldn’t hurt to say it one in a while.”

I thought to myself that he didn’t know what he was saying. I mean please, what would that do? Seriously! He clearly had lost touch.

But the comment stayed with me. What would happen? I realised that I didn’t have a clue. It would certainly be unexpected. It would probably confuse people. I marinated on the idea for a few weeks, then one day, walking along a crowded path between classes, I saw one, and I said “Hello Bill!”**

The reaction was absolutely thrilling. They turned to say Hello back without thinking, then saw who it was, and it was like their brain froze. Their face screwed up in confusion, and I felt brilliant. I had learnt a very important lesson, and thing started to change.

** The name has been changed to protect the guilty!! 😉

Continues…

A Darker Path: Part 4 – After the Storm

The ever growing continuation of Part 3.

I was asked a curious question today, which I will post without edit.

I’ve never really wanted to kill myself, I just didn’t think there was any way out of the current situation other to end my life. Is that how you saw it? To escape the environment you were in or did you actually want to kill yourself?

This was my reply: “I truly believed that I was a blight on existence. That things would be better if I were not around. That I was in everyone else’s way. I saw it as a kindness to myself and everyone.” I truly did not see the point in my existence. That hits hard to the rapidly-approaching-senior-years person that I am today. It hurts, and it has taken a long time for me to be to look at it this way.

Delayed Reaction

I had every intention of making a second attempt, but the sense of failure from my first try, and the fear of my parents finding out, meant that I hesitated. For years. At the time, I was not even thinking about what effect it might have on anyone else, I was just scared of failing again, and getting caught.

The move to high school had its positives and negatives. Many of the student body from my primary school came with me, and this was blended with other schools. The effect was to dilute some of the problems I had had in previous years, and presented a rare opportunity to meet new people. I became a bit of a floater, in that I really didn’t fit in with any specific group. I tended to drift.

Occasionally I would be cornered by bullies, both old and new, who took there pound of flesh, both metaphorically and physically, but it wasn’t so constant. In a larger school, there were more places to hide, and more people to “be with.” I became good at blending. Good training for becoming an assassin now I think about it.

My worsening hay-fever didn’t help matters. We tried all manner of drugs and therapy. Acupuncture, desensitisation injections, nasal sprays… It became a costly venture for my parents, but my mother refused to give in. Regardless, my condition deteriorated. The weekly shop usually consisted of several boxes of Kleenex Man-Sized tissues.

Gradually, the thoughts of self harm faded, and I pushed the memories into the darker recesses of my mind. Despite my hay-fever, the slightly easier lifestyle that high school offered meant my grades started to go up. Positive re-enforcement. Then there were classes that really got my interest, like art, technical drawing, French (which I was rather bad at in the end), and I continued with my clarinet in music.

English was interesting as well, as delved into creative writing, except for that one time where we were asked to create a story by adding a line and passing on. I did not find this very appealing. Why would I want to write someone’s story? So when one arrived at my desk that was started by a guy who clearly liked surfing, I floundered. I had no idea what to say. I wrote “I received a wave.” and got rid of it quick. My strong values in the English language, thanks to my mother’s influence, served me well, or so I thought. Apparently, according to my classmates, this wasn’t the lingo at all, and more fool me for not knowing. Well, that’s what happens when you ask someone else to write your story.

When I was left to write my own material, I found it hard to stop. While I never handed in a completed story, because there was just so much to write, I always scored high marks, and had comments like, “Well formed characters.” “Great story.” and so on. To this day, apart from some short fiction, I have not yet written anything with a definitive ending, which is why I don’t write much any more.

I was also introduced to the concept of a Nerd. I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently, I was one, minus the thick-rimmed glasses… Oh yes. The glasses. Late in my first year of high school, I was diagnosed with a visual problems, and I would need to wear glasses. So by the end of the year, I did indeed fit the standard image of a nerd, apart from the overly blonde hair colour, but this was an image I fought against. I went back for a follow up appointment, and the optometrist told me that my eyes had gotten worse. At the rate they were going, I would need bi-focals before I was 30! He then taught me rather simple eye exercises and stressed that I practice these as often as I could. This I did, and within 6 months, before I was half-way through my second year, my vision was almost perfect, and I never needed glasses again.

TRAMPOLINES!

All the students underwent a physical coordination test. I was one of a small group found to have coordination problems, which meant I had to attend special classes. At first, this felt like yet another failure, or thing I wasn’t good, but it turned into something wonderful. We got to use trampolines! GORDON FREAKING BENNETT! TRAMPOLINES!!!! For a could of hours each week, I got to practices throwing, walking with coordination, and other similar activities, and the BOUNCE ON TRAMPOLINES!!!!!!! Damn did we get good a this. Flips, turns, acrobatics, playing dodge-ball on  TRAMPOLINES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Some of the best hours of my high school years. I think it was this alone that made life just that little more bearable.

And this was pretty much school life for the next few years. I had a few good friends, still had some problems with other kids, and was doing alright at school. I got involved in, or should I say was dragged into, a few fights here and there, but generally speaking, I was left alone.

The attacks at home didn’t stop, only now my brother and father were preferred targets of choice. Mind you, taking on either of them usually had immediate effect. I tended to retreat and escape where I could.

On the Nose

Then came year 10. For some reason, my hay-fever exploded. Every single day, without fail, I suffered. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, it didn’t matter. Runny nose, sneezing, red eyes, dry throat, everything. I was constantly being asked “Do you have a cold?” It was embarrassing, depressing, and occasionally painful. I made a personal record that year with a sneezing fit of 15 without breath. I was basically convulsing due to lack of air by the end. I hid away in the air-conditioned library where the cool air helped a little.

Buried thoughts bubbled to the surface. I never did anything about them. I was too tired and mentally clouded to bother, but they were there, and I started visualising how I could do it. It was different now however. There were things I looked forward to. Certain school subjects, my Ju-Jitsu (training which had gotten very interesting), Scouts, friends. The desire for an end was no longer a dominating force. It had to compete with more positive thoughts.

Through all this, I was restless. I felt that, apart from the sense of general loneliness and isolation I always felt, I was missing something, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I was starting to get asked the proverbial question, “what do you want to do after school?” I honestly didn’t know, and I started to worry.

Continues…

A Darker Path: Part 3 – Key Note

A continuation from Part 2.

Well that was rather dark. A bit like the middle episode of a trilogy, the second part gets a little depressing. I am glad to say that my early years weren’t all doom and gloom. There were some great memories. I took up the clarinet and took part in some interesting orchestral experiments which I remember fondly. My parents got me into Ju-Jitsu, to help build my confidence, which it did… eventually. I also go my first taste of theatre.

Not all Gloom

The year seven production was to be Oliver! (yes the musical) and I recall being asked to audition for Oliver, which I was really excited about. The lead role. I drilled myself with the audition piece, “Where is Love?”. That’s right, that incredibly high boy-choir like number. The day of the auditions, I was nervous with both nerves and excitement. When it came time to actually perform, I got up there, and for a while completely forgot where I was, fully immersed in the song. It was towards the end, approaching the key note in the song, when I heard a snicker from the somewhere. I opened my eyes to see all my peers, the bullies, teasers, and antagonists, watching me, grins glowing at me. I faulted and my voice cracked, just when I needed it the most.

I was cast as an extra, and was then teased for months thereafter for my attempt. My first theatrical was rather dreadful. Interesting that the desire to try again stayed with me for many years until I had a second chance.

Dick-Smith-Electronics-K5008-Stereo-Amplifier-Kit-all-contentsI also join Cubs, learnt piano, built my first gaming computer with my father. When I say built, I mean completely. While we used a Dick Smith kit, in the days when Dick Smith actually sold electronic components and kits. In the days when Dick Smith Electronics was a REAL electronics shop. I had to draw out the circuit board using a special acid resistant pen, burn the rest off in an acid bath, solder all the components to the board, and program the chip using an E-prom unit my father had made. The programming was done is raw Hexadecimal, and took an age. The graphics consisted of blocks about 1/2 a centimetre across, and where back and white, but it was all mine. This was before PCs even became a concept. I built a lot of his kits when I was young.

The Hero and the Wiz

I became a bit of a Maths wiz in year 6 or 5, not sure which. We had a regular contest where the class was divided into two teams, and a member from each team would stand at the board and with a piece of chalk, answer simple math questions. The quickest stayed, and the loser was replaced by another contestant. I was tough to beat returning to my seat only once in the year.

During a game of softball in year seven, an incredible fluke happened. I just happened to be standing in the right place at the right, and paying absolutely no attention to the game, which was probably a good thing. Had I been paying attention, I may have flinched and been hit by a low flying ball moving at incredible speed. I had been place between the pitcher and second base, where absolutely nothing happened. The safest place to put the kid with no coordination or sporting skill what-so-ever. I never expected the pitcher to duck when a massive hit sent the ball his, and my way.

It landed neatly in my hands before I even knew what was going on. I looked down at the strange object in my hand. I then turned and tossed it casually to the girl holding second base. In that simple move, we got two of the opposing team out. Seeing as we only needed one out, and they only needed two home to win, we won. For a little while, I was the hero.

Yet, even though there were these moments of great things, I felt incredibly alone, unwanted, and unworthy. To my young mind, I couldn’t do anything right by my peers, my parents, and to myself. I felt foolish, and ignorant much of the time. Not about school things. Personal things. Other kids my age appeared to know more, be braver, stronger.

The Straw that Broke

Then came the end of Primary School. At this time, I had one good friend, and a few friends, but we were all going to different schools. We were to be separated, and my good friend changed. In the last days, I was suddenly friendless, and facing the prospect of going to high school with those same kids who saw me as their punching bag.

One in particular probably had a good reason not to like me very much, and it was his own fault. While it led to further pain, this memory I recall with great fondness. During class activities, we play dodge ball. I was a bit of a menace both inside and outside. I seemed to have better peripheral vision than most of my peers, and my Ju-Jitsu helped me with the dodging. I was like a gazelle, and when I was throwing the ball, I was able to make it look like I was aiming in a completely different direction to where I threw. This annoyed a certain someone, who decided to seek revenge.

He ambushed me on the oval after school with a small gang. He had a cricket ball with him, and he proceeded to try to hit me with it. It was vastly easier to dodge that, and try as he might, he simply could not hit me. As his cronies fetched the ball back, over and over again, this game of endless tag went on… until, in frustration, he threw the ball with as much energy as he could muster, at my head. Thank my parents for Ju-Jitsu lessons. I reactively ducked, and the ball stuck the foot-ball goal post, rebounded with all the force that had been given it, straight back at my attacker, hitting him smack in the forehead.

As amusing as this was, what sticks the most was the size of the “gang” that had formed by the time it ended. about 30 to 40 boys all crooning for me to stop moving and let the ball hit me. He, and most of the others, were to be a class mate in high school.

I didn’t know if I could face that. It was the last reason I needed. I knew where my father kept his rifle.

A view down a barrel

I don’t remember where everyone was. My brother may have been asleep in bed, or he was with my parents. Either way, I was effectively alone in the house. My dad had taught me about his rifle, which was not that different to the bolt-action, magazine-fed rifles used in World War One. I also knew what different bullets could do to a person. He used to take it with him when he went bush for work, before his accident.

I got myself set up. You could load a single bullet through the bolt hole, or through the magazine. I loaded a single hollow-point round through the bolt, and then turned the barrel to face me. I placed the end into the pit of my throat, then reached for the trigger. I couldn’t reach it. My arm was not long enough. I strained as much as I could, choking myself in the effort, but I simply could not reach the trigger.

In frustration, I sat a cried. I bawled, but quietly, because I didn’t want anyone to hear. I slowly became aware of the time. My parents would not be much longer. I couldn’t let them catch me like this. I almost panicked, but managed to unload the round, and replace both the bullet and rifle as I found them.

As far as I am aware, to this day, my parents never knew. That will change if and when they read this.

I was 12. I was committed in that moment. Fear and frustration, and short arms, saved me, and I am still here to talk about it. This is not the end however. While I have never consciously tried to take my life since, the experience affected me deeply, and now that I have started down this path, I feel the need to continue that tale to its conclusion.

Continues…

A Darker Path: Part 2 – Primary Time

Continued from Part 1 – Beginnings

First thing, Wow! Barely a day and the response to my last blog post has been rather overwhelming, and very positive. Thank you all. I have been told I am brave, and this is a nice thing to hear. I don’t personally see this as brave. More like having allowed it to ferment a little, it is time to let go. Onwards we go.

Family Matters

My father worked for the then Transport Department, who were also responsible for the laying of communications cable connecting northern town sites. His job was the reason we were in the country when I was born in the first place. I guess they decided to settle down once they knew a second child was on the way, my brother. I have memories of time spent with dad, out bush, shooting his rifle, playing in the above-ground pool. Good memories, but sadly vague and faded memories.

One day, things changed. He was involved in a rather curious working accident which effectively meant that a disc in his spin had been dislodged, or had slipped. I think the modern term is herniated. While this was rather nasty, it was fixable. In an operation, they could file down the exposed disc, fill in the empty space with a resin, and have him back on his feet quick smart. Except it didn’t go like that. As far as I know, they filed down too deep, damaging healthy nerve endings in the spine, which were then locked in resin. With no way for them to heal, they remained “damaged nerves” and behaved accordingly. He was constantly in pain, and has been ever since.

If that wasn’t enough, he was almost killed by an injection, administered on my parent’s bed, by the same surgical doctor. An injection we later learnt needs to be injected precisely into the spinal column, under clinical conditions, and the exact placement of the needle was critical, else secondary infections would occur. Secondary infections did occur. Life threatening ones.

After some incredible displays of medical incompetence, my father eventually demanded a second opinion, which was a decision that saved his life, and changed his outlook on doctors in general. It wasn’t the only thing that changed.

In writing this blog post, I can recall that he was a different man afterwards. Medical issues were never really resolved, and the damage done was largely irreversible, but maintainable, but the man I knew was no longer. He was swallowed by pain and anger. He became something frightening.

One event sticks out more in my mind than any other. He once thought that I was lying about something he felt damn sure he had caught me red-handed doing. I wasn’t. My father had always taught me to be honest and never lie. That night, I was taught a lesson in what sticking to the truth could cost when faced with irrational rage. While I stuck to my guns, and did not admit to the lie he insisted I was telling, I learnt that the truth was just as frightening, and dangerous as any lie. At least when it came to my father.

That probably would have been as far as it went, if not for another lesson in the danger about the truth. For that, I need to return to where I left off in Beginnings.

Back to School

So my early years of Primary School were often very lonely, after a fashion. I got along well with the girls, more so than the boys. Hardly surprising when you consider that pecking orders appeared to be gender specific for kids that age… Yet my associating with the girls usually attracted more unwanted attention from the boys, so it was like being between a rock and a hard place.

I think in either year two or three, I was startled by two students (one I can still name) while in the toilets. They both jumped and screamed over the edge of the stall I was in, and smiled gleefully down at me. I jumped so much, that I wet myself. Highly embarrassing, and a source for enthusiastic teasing for years to come, a specific pathway that wound down from the year 1-3 block to a netball court was renamed the “Wee-wee River” in my shame. The name stuck, even though the reason was long forgotten by the time I was in my last year there. No-one ever wanted to use it and walked on the grass instead.

The teasing continued after school hours as well. I lived in the same street as some of my biggest antagonists, and those that didn’t live nearby, soon learnt where I lived. Our house was attacked, had plants pulled up, windows smashed, or they would lie in wait for me. Mind you, when my father was around, they were very polite, apart from a small few who thought they could intimidate him… They learnt otherwise.

I had one really cool friend called Jane, who’s birthday was the same day as mine, who was new to the school but left before the end of the year. She didn’t care what others thought, and once I realised this, she become a subtle influence on me, but our time together was so short, and I never heard from her again.

Gradually, the girls grew an interest in boys, and I wasn’t one of the boys. I was an honorary girl I guess. I was truly in the Friend-zone, not that I actually wanted much more than just some good friends. However, they couldn’t be seen associating with me because… well, I don’t really know why, but I have a few assumptions. So I began to find places to hide away and watch. I did a lot of watching, and learning.

I fell in with a group that eventually became known as the “No-mates.” An odd name for a group of friends I always thought, and not one we chose either. We were the odd balls and outcasts, brought together by a common persecution. Even this was short-lived, as one of my antagonists somehow became a part of the group, and I rapidly lost interest.

I was fortunate in that I got a long with many of my teachers. I was the student that could often bend the rules a little and get away with it. Many of my teachers I held a high regard for their support and encouragement. Some I can see their faces, and others I can recall their names.

Then something changed. Apparently, I had lied again.

I can’t recall the circumstances that lead to the meeting with a teacher, one of whom I respected above most others. He had become a friend of the family, and had taken a special interest in me, or so it seemed. Yet, on this day, he had the unshakable belief that I had done, or been a part of something, and that I was to admit to him as such. While I don’t remember what it was, I can tell you now, I hadn’t done it. I hadn’t been anywhere near it, nor had any desire to. What transpired what a virtual carbon copy of the event between me and my father only a year before.

It was physical. It was painful. It was violent. Yet again, I did not give in. I was adamant that I had not been involved. I don’t think he ever believed me, but my respect for him was destroyed. He also withdrew from me, and I think he even left some time later. I learnt to distrust any adult, and that sometimes, you simply could not rely on the truth at all.

My lessons from primary school;

  • people, young and old, will let you down.
  • the truth will not save you.
  • violence was destructive.
  • standing up for yourself was dangerous.
  • anger was wrong.
  • no-one liked a nice-guy.
  • people lie, and believe what they will.
  • I couldn’t control anything.
  • hay-fever sucked.

I feel like I am chipping away at a rather large rock. The more I write, the more I seem to remember and feel inclined to talk about. This is very different to my usual struggle of what to write about. This is an interesting experience.

My next blog, I think I may actually get to the big event, but feel certain that this will not be the end. The effects carry forward, and there just seems so much to tell about this story. It’s bigger than I first imagined.

Continues…

A Darker Path: Part 1 – Beginnings

I have mentally debated the pros and cons of blogging about my darkest episode in life, and right now, I am questioning why i had to debate it. Recently, very recently, I have become aware of a number of others within my circle of friends, and friends of friends, who are going through, have gone through, their own dark patch. Then, as the final nail, an actor, whom I admire, demonstrates his dedication to friends who lost their fight. Jared Padalecki and his Anti-Depression Campaign was the final kick for me.

So here I am, about to write a blog about my personal battle with depression. What I have come to learn over the years is that most of us battle with it at some point in time, and if you haven’t personally struggled with it, you will likely know someone who is, or has. You may not even know it. For many years, it was not discussed, which made those that suffered often feel as they were alone in their pits. The reality is, depression is as much a part of the human condition as happiness, aggression, love, hate, obsession… Sometimes it can become a sickness.

I have always been concerned about sounding like an attention seeker when talking about my own battle with depression, and have only opened to a small few with whom I have felt safe. Over time, the few have grown to a few more, but still only a small number of people. Now I am here blogging to who knows how many, and I am a little scared.

Simple Times: Me and a friendI was born a country kid. Small mining town. Small kindergarten. Close knit families, and everyone pretty much knew each other. I have a snap-shot like memory of a deep red-sky sunset, and others like riding my Green-Machine down the streets warning everyone that the “Morons are coming!” whenever I saw men in suits with thick books in their hands.

Apparently, the Mormons stopped coming around after I started my announcements.

Other memories include Cyclones, above ground pools, massive Monitor Lizards climbing up the fly-wire on the back door, and the red dust of North Western Australia. Then, all too soon, we moved down to the big city.

1976Perth was by no means a big city, but to my 4 year old eyes, it was massive. I had never seen anything like it. So many people. My kindergarten class went from a handful to to over 30. I was overwhelmed, and I didn’t adjust very well. I socially retreated becoming shy, uncertain, and unapproachable. I was the new comer. The outcast country boy, who had a few things about pecking orders he needed to learn, and where he fit on it; the bottom.

I can’t recall if I was more socially adept before moving to Perth and the change in lifestyle affected me, or if I had always been a little backward. Probably the latter. I was always a little more sensitive then others.

This social order stigma was something that would follow me through to Primary school, and was compounded by the increasing size of the students. We all need to feel good about ourselves, and often kids, and even adults, achieve this by finding someone else they see as being worse off, or weaker, and making sure they, and everyone around them knows it. I was that weaker kid. The quiet, shy, perhaps snobbish kid, with the slightly British accent, who seemed to have a cold all the time.

Oh yeah, that was another thread to the tale. After moving down to Perth, I appeared to develop rather nasty hay-fever, and I was perpetually sneezing, blowing my nose, suffering from itchy eyes, and so forth. Not helped by the fact, that resolved itself many years later, that I was allergic to a specific strain of grass that dominated the area I lived in.

First visit to Kings ParkI look back on photos of me back then, and I often say to myself, “I look almost like an albino, without actually being one.” Bright blonde hair, very pale skin. I looked very Scandinavian, even thought I come from Cornish and German descendants…  I must have been an odd sight in sunny Australia, especially during a period where suntanned and athletic bodies were the stereotypical norm. I was just too different.


At this point, I realise that I have quite a bit to write about. More than I can fit in to one sitting. So I am going to break this into parts. To be honest, I don’t know how many parts there will be because I have been thinking and recalling so many little things that I have hitherto not paid much concern to.

Continues…